Woldemariam on Insurgent Fragmentation in the Horn of Africa


Michael Woldemariam, Assistant Professor of International Relations and Political Science at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, discussed his new book Insurgent Fragmentation in the Horn of Africa: Rebellion and its Discontents (Cambridge University Press, 2018) as part of the Pardee School Research Seminar Series on April 17, 2018.

In Insurgent Fragmentation in the Horn of Africa, Woldemariam examines how when insurgent organizations factionalize and fragment, it can profoundly shape a civil war: its intensity, outcome, and duration. The book, aimed at audiences interested in insurgent groups and conflict dynamics, is a rare effort to examine these issues in the context of the Horn of Africa region, based upon extensive fieldwork

“The book is really a product of my attachment to a particular place,” Woldemariam said. “I wrote this book in response to what I viewed as a series of unsettling developments that were unfolding in the small northeast African country of Eritrea in the mid to late 2000s.”

An extended treatment of this complex and important phenomenon, Insurgent Fragmentation in the Horn of Africa examines why rebel organizations fragment through a unique historical analysis of the Horn of Africa’s civil wars. Central to his view is that rebel factionalism is conditioned by battlefield developments.

“The book’s main argument really rests on a number of intuitions of organizational economics, various theories of international relations, social movement theory — kind of an eclectic blend,” Woldemariam said. “A core premise of the book is that even the most hierarchical and centralized organizations at their root can be treated as alliances of convenience between different networks and factions. This is because the demands of early rebellion and the overall dangers and insecurity of civil war and revolutionary violence often drive different networks of militants together into collaboration under a common organizational framework.”

Woldemariam argues that while fragmentation is caused by territorial gains and losses, counter-intuitively territorial stalemate tends to promote rebel cohesion and is a critical basis for cooperation in war.

“The book speaks to these broad, intellectual themes of rebels splintering, fragmentation and civil war because it needed to as a work of political science. The subtext of the book, and particularly the case studies on Eritrea, are to actually tell the truth about what happened and knock down old myths,” Woldemariam said. “That was the real purpose and what got me started on this topic. The issue of rebel fragmentation was really a vehicle to get into this whole issue.”

Woldemariam’s teaching and research interests focus on African politics, particularly the dynamics of armed conflict, the behavior of rebel organizations and self-determination movements, and post-conflict institution building. He has special expertise in the Horn of Africa, and has conducted fieldwork in Ethiopia, Mozambique, Somaliland, South Africa, and India.

The Pardee School Research Seminar Series is a forum for faculty and students to discuss and receive feedback on ongoing research. The series is a mix of presentations, works-in-progress sessions, and research workshops. Faculty and students based at BU and elsewhere are invited to present and attend the Research Seminar Series. Anyone interested in presenting should send an e-mail with name, affiliation, and a presentation description, with “Pardee Seminar” in the subject line, to: Mahesh Karra.